Admittedly it’s been a while since I watched this film ahead of writing up this retrospective and as such the cobwebs of familiarity had gathered clouding to the point that i had forgotten which 70s erotic horror film I was about to discuss,
This led me to initially think that Daughters of Darkness had little impact on me but when I came to research the film once more, I was instantly flooded with its striking and stylised images captured by Director Harry Kümel and his cinematographer Eduard van der Enden. I suddenly remembered that feeling of watching an effective European feature that projected a juxtaposition of harsh and fluid scenery and characters that ooze a psychologically unhinged gothic vampire tale loosely based on the infamous historical figure Countess Elizabeth Bathory.
The film is heavily entrenched in surrealism and expressionism with a curiously noir aspect in places. Set primarily in the Belgian coastal city Ostend, a character in itself and a place I’ve been fortunate to visit so there was a spark of physical and visual nostalgia created when I watched the film.
The film follows the misogynistic Stefan (John Karlen), born of aristocracy as he travels through Europe with his newly-wed wife Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) to introduce her to his mother.
He appears apprehensive about doing this as though his attitude towards women stems from this fear or apprehensive relationship he has with his mother.
What struck me is that the film, despite its aggressive approach to women, who are often the subject of sadomasochistic views, actually is a feminist film, with a strong message about women establishing their own identity in the wake of degradation. This is none more evident than through the character Valerie.
It is with the arrival of Elizabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig – The Day of the Jackal) along with her secretary Ilona (Andrea Rau) that this is truly awakened in Valerie. At first cautious about this charismatic Countess, but similarly finding her charms irresistible, Valerie begins to see her husband Stefan in a new light with a brutally sadomasochistic encounter. Furthermore Stefan becomes sexually drawn to Ilona too and in doing so, pours forth his animalistic, aggressive side with fatalistic consequences leading the trio of Stefan, Valerie, and the Countess to clean up the mess, but it doesn’t stop there. In order to really cleanse their souls further drastic actions must occur and bring Valerie into a further awakening.
What becomes apparent by the film’s conclusion is that Daughters of Darkness is not to be judged on face value. It may not be to everyone’s taste but its a visual treat that resonates with the time but there is definitely more going on beneath the surface.
- Saul Muerte